Dorchester Illustration no. 2335 Hawthorne Grove, Sumner-Wilder House, Washington Street
The estate that became known as Hawthorne Grove was located at the intersection of Washington Street and Columbia Road. The painting of the property was painted on the face of a brick that came from the house.
The farmhouse was originally built by Increase Sumner (1740-1774) about 1770 on land his father purchased in 1723. William Sumner, father of Increase, bought 15 acres of “meadowland on Blue Hill Avenue” from the town of Dorchester on Nov. 8, 1723. At that time lands that were not in individual ownership were held as Common Lands by the Selectmen of Dorchester Plantation. These lands were rented out for firewood or more commonly pasture until sold. Increase was a direct descendant of William Sumner, one of the founding fathers of Dorchester.
The farm was located right against the town line separating Roxbury from Dorchester that was established by the General Court in 1632. The farmhouse served as a place of safety for the Sumner family during the Revolutionary War. Their townhouse was on Roxbury Street just below Roxbury First Church and also just below the cannon redoubts on Fort Hill that guarded the only land route to the interior. After Increase Sumner died in 1774, his widow and children–including his namesake son who would become Governor of Massachusetts in 1797–fled to their farm in Dorchester for the duration. After the widow Sumner removed to Boston in 1806, her grandson General William Sumner sold the family estate in August, 1806.
Marshall Pinckney Wilder (1798-18868), a Boston merchant, acquired the old farm in 1832 and renamed it Hawthorne Grove, not to be outdone by Grove Hall nearby. A New Hamphsire native, Wilder moved to Boston in 1825 where he opened a business in wholesale West India goods on Union Street. This expanded into the wholesale drygoods trade, and he became a large scale broker of cotton and wool, at one point shipping from his own mills. During the Civil War he made a fortune supplying the Union Army with the materials for uniforms. At his death in 1886 Wilder was the oldest and one of the wealthiest commission merchants of cotton and wool in Boston.
He was more widely known during his lifetime and afterwards, however, for his active role in the development of a truly indigenous American agriculture and horticulture, especially with the propagation of fruits. After his first wife died suddenly leaving him with four small children n 1831 he sought relief in the country and on July 31, 1832, he bought the Increase Sumner farm just outside Grove Hall for $5,500. This contained 13 acres, a dwelling house, stable and barns on the “upper road to Milton and the Roxbury town line.”
Soon after he moved, he remarried and began to build an extensive series of greenhouses and gardens that extended over nearly 10 acres. He encircled the estate with a stone wall, and a curved entrance drive led into the house which faced east. Wilder grew and experimented with 900 varieties of pears alone, growing on 2500 trees, and with 300 varieties of the southern shrub the camellia. So great was his collection of flowers, as Francis Drake implies in his book The Town of Roxbury (1878), that the Marshall greenhouses were emptied out to form the basis of the Boston Public Garden in 1839.
For eight years (1840-1847) he was president of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, for twenty years president of the Norfolk Agricultural Society, six years president of the United States Agricultural Society, and, from its organization in 1848, president of the American Pomological Society. He was largely influential in the embellishment of Mount Auburn, also in the founding of the Institute of Technology and the Natural History Rooms in Boston. Of the New England Historical Genealogical Society, he was president from the date of his first election in 1868 to the close of his earthly life.
The subdivision of the wilder estate began in 1892 when Wilder’s son by his third marriage, his youngest, Edward Baker Wilder, built a 2 ½ story, wood frame, shingle style house where no. 90 Columbia Road is today. It was designed by Hartwell-Richardson and was located not far from the Wilder estate stable. In 1924 the house was bought and moved to the rear of the lot and an apartment house was built on its site. On August 20, 1924, Julius Krinsky and Abraham Bobbitt bought the old farm house with 20,000 square feet of land from the Edward’s estate. They razed the 150 year-old farm house and built 5 three-story apartment buildings on the property in 1925.